Top Four Fast, Delicious (and Surprisingly Healthy!) Lunch Choices

1. Sandwiches and Wraps

According to some very reputable source on the internet, sandwiches are the top source of calories in the Standard American Diet. If you’re at all surprised, remember that Big Macs and Fatburgers fall under the sandwich category.

Don’t worry, though, because sandwiches can be healthy! Not just healthy but also yummy as a cheeseburger and healthy as a… I don’t know, a collard green? Whatever, just really healthy! And even if you’re on Atkins/Paleo/raw vegan/tapeworm diet (just kidding!) you can always use lettuce or coconut wraps to make a burrito/roll type thing that fits your needs.

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This is love.

For lunch today I had the best motherlovin’ sandwich ever. It was made with 45-calorie 100% whole wheat bread toasted with Jarlsberg Lite with some dijon mustard, roasted bell peppers, tomato, lettuce, and 1/4 of an avocado. Yum! These are just the things I had on hand, too, so it was super convenient to make.

Oh yeah, and you know what I had on the side of my sandwich? That’s right…

2. Salad!

I know, I know, salad gets a horrible rap from everyone. Salad. It’s like longhand for “sad.” Fitness websites are always whining about how restaurant salads are so deceptive and they are full of mayonnaise and bacon and fried chips and blah blah blah! Everyone hates subsisting on pathetic little leaves of lettuce all in the name of health. And worse yet are those stupid bloggers (oopsies) who go on and on and on about how much they love salads! Who can stand them?

But you know what? Salads can be healthy and yummy, and not just by Slim-Fast standards. A good salad can just be a bunch of (preferably healthy) leftovers with veggies and stuff. It can be whatever you want it to be.

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Summer salad – romaine, watermelon, and baked tofu

So spiralize those cucumbers! Sprinkle on the hulled barley and walnuts. And if you want, spray some olive oil or add a bit of non-diabetes-causing dressing.

3. Soup

There’s nothing better than a nice warm soup on a chilly day. Or a nice chilled soup on a hot day. Or a hearty room temperature soup after a long day. You get the idea.

The best part is that you can freeze and reheat most soups so you can make a huge batch and eat it for months if you’re into the whole meal-prepping thing. You can use practically any ingredients you have to make a great soup. I personally love my soymilk machine (yes, soymilk machine) for making soup – it purees and cooks all the ingredients so I get wonderfully creamy-tasting soups, minus the cream.

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Pumpkin soup topped with plain nonfat Greek yogurt, basil, and pepitas.

4. Leftover Mashup

Okay, I realize that pretty much everything here could be a leftover mashup, but sometimes you just want to combine leftovers without even calling it a soup, salad, or sandwich, ya feel?

Sometimes you just want to get food out of the fridge and scarf it down. I definitely feel that a lot.

Well, how can you make this random mashup of leftovers healthy? Easy! You’ve just got to make sure you get three important components: veggies (duh), protein, and (unless you’re on Atkins of whatever, then you can sub cauli rice or spiralized noodles or whatever) starch.

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I just want to eat it all right now.

So no matter how busy you are, no excuses! Eat something healthy, yummy, and easy to make. Now that’s a triumvirate of dieting success.

I'm happy because I'm no longer hungry.

I’m happy because I’m no longer hungry.

Bribing Children + Low-Carb Cookies and Healthy Banana Bread

(If you don’t want to read our boring personal anecdotes then scroll down to the “read more” section for the recipes!)

My younger daughter Audrey is a lovely child. Let’s establish that first.

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on the red carpet

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at the wax museum with her namesake

Do you believe me? Alright, let’s continue.

Angela and Audrey have been playing piano for ten years and six years, respectively. Neither of them practice much at all. I forgive Angela because I know she’s busy (or claims to be) but Audrey, on the other hand, has become obsessed with the likes of Taylor Swift and no longer enjoys playing classical piano music.

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Now this is art!

Okay, you might be thinking, If she hates piano, why force her to play? What kind of crazy tiger mother are you? I’m afraid that if I try to explain people might not like me so much, so I’m going to let Angela be the contributing author today. Fire away, Angela:

Our mom wants us to play piano because she’s a sentimental old lady. When Audrey laments her forced practicing, our mother mutters something about classical music helping us get hitched someday or something. Her official reason is that she loves classical music and her piano got taken away during the Cultural Revolution and blah blah blah. But she’s always told us it’s so that the matchmaker has something good to say about us.

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“We’ll bring honor to our family!” Let the record show that Angela was obviously being facetious. -Joan

Anyway, our mother wants us to practice piano all the time for several reasons, outlined above. I play when I can, but Audrey, bless your little soul, would rather curl her eyelashes (I’m kidding, Audrey, please no retributive violence!) than sit down and play some Debussy. So my mommy has taken to bribing her with treats.

She used to buy the real deal, super creamy starch-laden diabetes-causing Standard American Diet staples like Oreos and Ben & Jerry’s. But now that she’s trying to be healthier, she’s taken to coaxing Audrey with somewhat less food coma-inducing fare. Since our dad’s keeping an eye on his blood sugar, we also have to make sure he won’t get a huge spike in blood glucose when he sneaks leftovers.

Much joy. Many carbs. Much fat. Much regret.

Much joy. Many carbs. Much fat. Much regret.

Today our mother purchased a huge bag of almond flour (blanched almonds ground up into flour) and decided to make Audrey some desserts as payment for a few harried minutes of Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum. These recipes hit all the buzzwords: paleogluten free, and vegetarianif you’re into that stuff. We made some substitutions (i.e., erythritol/rebiana blend “stevia” and maltitol-sweetened sugar-free maple-flavored syrup) that probably aren’t paleo, but then again I highly doubt cavemen ever ground up coconuts and almonds and baked them into cookies and banana bread. Oh, well. (Note: if you are a paleo diet aficionado and I just offended you, please note that I am just some sarcastic teenager and it’s really not worth it to be offended.)

Okay, without further ado:

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Apology + Healthy Milkshake

I would like to formally apologize for my post yesterday, which according to my daughter Angela was “atrocious and a half.” Apparently Lewis Carroll is a “boring pedophile.” From now on Angela will not only be my food Nazi, but she will also be in charge of making sure that I don’t excessively quote sex offenders and ramble on about faux-intellectual nonsense, or “random crap.” Oh, teenagers!

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Salmon + egg whites + whole eggs + chives

I just remembered, here is a photograph of my salmon-egg scramble from Sunday brunch. It was delicious and nutritious although not particularly photogenic.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Angela would now like to share her favorite recipe modified from Katie Koblinsky’s at Skinny Minnie Moves. It’s a healthy milkshake!

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Topped with unsightly clumps of cinnamon

Here are the ingredients:

  • 100 g frozen sliced banana
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (I used Silk)
  • 34 g whey protein powder (I used Cellucor Cinnamon Swirl)
  • 3 cups ice (I used frozen coffee)
  • sweetener to taste (I used two packs of erythritol/rebiana blend)

Blend everything in a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix). Then eat!

Read more for nutrition info.

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Food For Thought

I love Sunday mornings.  I like the serenity before everyone rises.  This morning I indulged in a little esoteric reading with a cup of English breakfast tea before Peter got up. The book was Alice In Wonderland Cookbook by John Fisher and Lewis Carroll.  Included in the book is an essay that Lewis Carroll wrote in 1907 titled Feeding the Mind. 

 He begins: “Breakfast, dinner, tea; in extreme cases, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, tea, supper, and a glass of something hot at bedtime. What care we take about feeding the lucky body! Which of us does as much for his mind? And what causes the difference? Is the body so much the more important of the two? By no means: but life depends on the body being fed, whereas we can continue to exist as animals though the mind be utterly starved and neglected. Therefore Nature provides that, in case of serious neglect of the body, such terrible consequences of discomfort and pain shall ensue, as will soon bring us back to a sense of our duty: and some of the functions necessary to life she does for us altogether, leaving us no choice in the matter. It would fare but ill with many of us if we were left to superintend our own digestion and circulation. . . . The consequences of neglecting the body can be clearly seen and felt; and it might be well for some if the mind were equally visible and tangible—if we could take it, say, to the doctor, and have its pulse felt.”

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He goes on to propose four key factors for what we consume intellectually—type, amount, variety, and frequency: “First, then, we should set ourselves to provide for our mind its proper kind of food. We very soon learn what will, and what will not, agree with the body, and find little difficulty in refusing a piece of the tempting pudding or pie which is associated in our memory with that terrible attack of indigestion, and whose very name irresistibly recalls rhubarb and magnesia; but it takes a great many lessons to convince us how indigestible some of our favorite lines of reading are, and again and again we make a meal of the unwholesome novel, sure to be followed by its usual train of low spirits, unwillingness to work, weariness of existence — in fact, by mental nightmare.”

“Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount… Then, again, though the food be wholesome and in proper amount, we know that we must not consume too many kinds at once… Having settled the proper kind, amount, and variety of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind… And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author…”

 In this age of information overload, this 107-year-old musing seems to be as relevant as ever.  So often we sit in front of a computer and feed our brains the kind of indigestible junk food we would not have fed our body.

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Carroll ends with an entertaining “test” for healthy mental digestion: “To ascertain the healthiness of the mental appetite of a human animal, place in its hands a short, well-written, but not exciting treatise on some popular subject — a mental bun, in fact. If it is read with eager interest and perfect attention, and if the reader can answer questions on the subject afterwards, the mind is in first-rate working order. If it be politely laid down again, or perhaps lounged over for a few minutes, and then, ‘I can’t read this stupid book! Would you hand me the second volume of “The Mysterious Murder”?’ you may be equally sure that there is something wrong in the mental digestion.”

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Having fed my brain the feast of Lewis Carroll, I went on to plan our Sunday brunch.  Then Peter woke up and the two of us walked to the Fort Mason Farmers Market at 9:30 to get fresh produce for brunch and dinner.  All around us, people were jogging or walking their dogs.  San Francisco is a health conscious city.

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My favorite at the market is the dry-farmed tomatoes.  There are no other tomatoes in the world that are even close when it comes to the intensity of its flavor.  We had them with fresh Mozzarella cheese.  The natural flavor of everything was so perfect that we didn’t need to use Balsamic glaze or olive oil, not even salt and pepper.  I also made enough French toast and smoked-salmon egg scramble to feed an army.  So today is a day of abundance.  Not a day to lose weight.

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Origin of My Love for Ice Cream + Halo Top Review

Maquelonne Toussaint-Samat asserts in her History of Food that “the Chinese may be credited with inventing a device to make sorbets and ice cream.” Some distorted accounts claim that in the Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China and took the technique of making ice cream to Italy. We should have covered this in one of the episodes of Marco Polo!

Ice cream was a rarity in China when we were growing up. I heard from other girls that you would be rewarded with a bowl of ice cream if you were lucky enough to have your tonsils removed. It was a minor surgical procedure performed without anesthesia. I convinced my mother to let me have the operation, but when I was given a bowl of ice cream to soothe my throat, swallowing hurt so badly that I gave my reward to my brother.

Nowadays ice cream is everywhere, and I have had decades to recover from my tonsillectomy so ice cream is once again a great love of mine. However, we all know how overindulgence in ice cream isn’t exactly healthy…

Product Review!

Ice Cream

Clockwise from upper left: lemon cake, vanilla bean, strawberry, chocolate.

This weekend, Halo Top Creamery (IG: @halotopcreamery) was generous enough to send us coupons for four pints of their delicious light ice cream! Unlike other ice creams, Halo Top is actually healthy, and you can eat the whole pint without wanting to go to sleep with a gigantic food baby. Here’s our review!

Strawberry

This is good. It’s what you’d expect from strawberry ice cream. It tastes like strawberries and it’s rich and creamy.

Chocolate

With a rich deep chocolatey taste, this one is reminiscent of what you’d get at Ghirardelli Square, minus the blood sugar spike and subsequent regret.

Vanilla Bean

This is great. It’s got pretty little dots of vanilla, barely visible, but it gives the ice cream this cute artisanal look. This is my older daughter Angela’s favorite.

Lemon Cake

Audrey says: “Tell them this one’s your favorite!” I’ve never had a lemon cake ice cream flavor before, but I’m telling you it’s wonderful. It kind of has a very mild hint of egg yolk taste, so if you don’t like egg yolk then you probably won’t like this flavor as much, but I personally loved it.

Nutrition

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from the Halo Top website

I usually hate talking about calories; they’re just units of energy, after all, and everyone acts like they’re evil. But in this case I think I have to bring it up because it’s honestly part of what makes this ice cream one of my favorites. Halo Top Creamery ice cream is under 300 kcal per PINT, and if you’re anything like me you will always eat the whole pint. Not only will you be able to enjoy ice cream without bursting at the seams, you’ll also get 28 g protein per pint! I think you get the idea. I may be gluttonous, but I do have some standards. I will definitely look forward to having this again in the future.

Disclaimer: Yes, Halo Top did give us coupons for their ice cream, but don’t worry, no company will ever be able to buy our opinions! We really do love this ice cream.

I love food. Especially coconut.

I ate all the leftovers in the refrigerator as my breakfast.  Eating everyone’s leftovers was part of the reason I gained so much weight.  The kids call me the garbage disposal.  My husband calls me “Piece-by-piece.”  I simply can’t throw any food away.  The year I was born, millions of people starved to death in China.  When I was growing up everything was rationed.  When we bought meat, it would be a piece about an inch thick and the length of a chopstick and we would carry it home on a chopstick.  Everyone in the neighborhood would know we were having meat on that day.  I learned at a very young age to slice the pork as fine as angel hair pasta.  There are a lot of shredded meats in Chinese cuisine probably because of scarcity.

HANGRY

Now, in this world of abundance, I still subconsciously prepare for famine.  I buy bulk at Costco.  The pantry is always fully stocked.  The two full-sized refrigerators with four freezers are always filled to the brim.  Angela always complains that there is too much food in the house.  “Why do you have to buy food when there is still food in the house?”  I don’t have an answer to that.  But perhaps subconsciously I still prepare for famine and a house full of food  is the concrete sign that I have arrived at a good life. 

Instead of going to the gym, I walked all the way to Chinatown to buy my favorite braised extra firm tofu.  One dollar for two pieces.  I bought eight for four dollars.  They are not only delicious but also a steal. I have found that I am not gobbling down as much food anymore since I started the blog and began taking pictures of some of my food.  But of course I had a second piece of the tofu and a third one before dinner.

Tofu

We had relatives over for dinner and I made a yummy curry chicken with onion, carrots, cauliflower and potatoes.  Anyone can make a wow curry dish with the “MAE PLOY” brand of curry paste, coconut oil, coconut milk and lemongrass.  I guarantee it. It’s a bit on the heavy side because of all the coconut, but research has shown that the lauric acid in coconut is actually good for you compared to other types of saturated fat. At least that’s what I use to justify my love of coconut!

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Back when I could pig out and still look hot.

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Coconut love.

Audrey eating

AUDREY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD! It runs in the family.

All about Nutritional Yeast! +Kale

A few days ago, Lisa Lillien, AKA “Hungry Girl,” asked a million-dollar humdinger of a question:

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“If someone offered you a MILLION DOLLARS to never eat CHEESE (in any form) again, would you do it??? WEIGH IN!!!!”

Until today my answer would have been “Not for a BILLION dollars!” but now I’m not so sure… because today, I went to my local hoity toity yuppie grocery store (which we can’t help but love) and bought something called nutritional yeast. It’s made out of some organism from the fungi family, so it’s vegan-friendly if you’re into that. But that’s not the best part. This stuff is freakin’ delicious! It tastes really savory, I guess what you’d call “umami,” just like cheese but without the sodium and cholesterol and saturated fat. It’s also high in micronutrients, but personally I care more about the YUM factor.

I used the nutritional yeast to top my homemade kale chips. Yes, kale, which according to the CDC is the fifteenth healthiest vegetable in the entire world. I’ve made a real 180, healthwise: from Ben and Jerry’s to banana ice cream, from starch and trans fat-laden Chinese snackies to crispy chips made out of green leafy vegetables. And I’m not depriving myself one bit.

KALE

Okay, sorry, back to the food. Kale chips. Dirt’s gift to mankind. I swear they taste infinitely better than they look in my photo! All it takes is to bake ’em at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 min. There are lots of different variations – just Google kale chips! – but this is how I make mine:

Super Umami (with Nutritional Yeast)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Put about 100 g (or however much you want) washed, chopped and dried kale on a baking sheet (I used parchment paper so we wouldn’t have to use too much oil).
  3. Spray lightly with oil. I used my favorite EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, for future reference) and a Misto oil sprayer but you can use any cooking spray you want!
  4. Season evenly with about 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast, and salt and pepper if you want.
  5. Bake for 10-12 min or until crispy!

Hot ‘n Spicy

  1. (same as steps 1-3 above)
  2. Season with salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, and red pepper.
  3. Bake!

Italian

  1. (same as step 1 in “Hot ‘n Spicy”)
  2. Season with garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, Italian seasoning, and thyme.
  3. Bake!

There are so many variations out there but these are my three favorites!

In which I scream for ice cream

去健身房锻炼听了贝多芬的钢琴协奏曲第五,让我想到第一次听这首协奏曲是在西安电影制片厂滕文骥家里,那年我十九岁,在拍电影《苏醒》,我能感觉到中国文化也正在苏醒。文革期间听西方音乐是要坐牢的,所以80年头一次听贝多芬让我觉得惊心动魄。

我大女儿喜欢在健身的时候听快节奏的摇滚,这样她可以保持速度。我却更喜欢听电影音乐或者古典音乐,让我在健身的时候随心所欲,沉浸在回忆和想像的世界里。

第五正好45分钟,在跑步机上我穿越了过去,现在和未来。

回到家里,我奖励自己一个自制冰激淋。那是用冰冻香蕉和半小勺香精用搅拌机打的,另外还加了一把核桃,口感和味道都跟真的冰激淋一模一样,却要健康的多。我再也不需要为吃了冰激淋而后悔了。

I almost didn’t go to the gym today.  Angela and I were going to go together after she came back from school, but she decided to work out in the school gym instead.  Ordinarily that would be excuse enough for me to skip the gym.  But today the good Joan laughed at the lazy Joan and dragged her to the gym.

And of course, the best part of the day is yet to come:  the reward. 

ice cream

I made banana ice cream with my Vitamix.  The recipe was from SkinnyTaste, although I’m not sure what the original source is.  Just frozen ripe bananas and a few drops of vanilla extract.  When it was almost smooth, I put in a handful of toasted walnuts.  Then I sprinkled a couple of walnuts on top with a slice of wipe nectarine.  Divine. It tasted exactly like real ice cream, and I mean it. It was smooth and creamy and sweet but there was no added sugar or cream! This recipe is a definite keeper.

Because I was listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 today on the elliptical, I was going to write a long mawkish post about listening to forbidden European classical music during my childhood, but my daughter told me that was weird. But I think I’ll still get into the mushy sentimental story sometime when she’s not looking.

Reflecting on Today – and, Oatmeal

breakfast

Today I had porridge made of Cellucor whey, coconut flour and oats topped with walnuts and frozen berries for breakfast at 6:00am.  I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about my husband’s stress levels.  He got called into the hospital at an ungodly hour and decided to sleep a couple of hours on the examination table before work instead of coming back home.  Stirring the porridge helped to calm me down. And eating it was heavenly.

The best thing of the day was that I actually hauled my ass to the gym in the afternoon.  I worked out on the elliptical with the music from the movie Up.  Unlike Angela, my older daughter, who listens to trashy fast music during workouts to pump her up, I like to listen to film scores or classical music.  I don’t care to chase the speed of the drums.  What I need is to chase away the boredom.  Through memories and imaginations, the most powerful mechanism against monotony.  The music brought to me longing, sadness, mystery, tension and jubilation.  I conjured up images from past, present and future as I sweated away on the machine.  Mostly, the music brought back the tender moments in life that made even the hardest time meaningful.  When I finally left the gym, I was filled with gratitude. 

Why didn’t I go in the past 10 days?  Must make myself go again tomorrow.

It was 2pm when I got home.  I quickly ate a bowl of pistachio nuts in shells before Angela came home.  She is my main food Nazi.  A little regret, but  at least they were in shells.  I only buy nuts in shells in the hope that shelling them could slow down my eating.

Will cook vegetable soup and baked tofu in miso sauce for me and the girls and will add a sautéed chicken with celery for my husband.

Ratatouille

The road to redemption from pig bones to vegetable stew.

Yesterday I was eating pork shank and now I’m having ratatouille! (I’ll have three bowls of it but let’s not get into my portion control issues.) Don’t be fooled by the picture, I’m not having plain vegetables; I’m eating this over a bed of 100% whole grain farro, which I heard is better than the big bowl of white rice I ate the other day.

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There are lots of great ratatouille recipes out there, but I made this using Fooducate.com’s recipe, except I omitted the sugar and vinegar. They say this is six servings but for us it’s more like three!

I don’t really have a concrete plan right now for how I’m going to get in shape. I’m just doing my best to eat whatever I think is healthy and exercise every now and again. Let’s see how it goes…